Holy Order: Priests
Last week we saw how candidates are trained for the ordained Ministry of the Church. After being ordained Deacon they go to work in parishes. Some choose to remain as deacons but most become priests. And so, twelve months later there comes their ordination to the priesthood when they receive the Sacrament of Holy Order, this time to make them Priests.
The minister of the Sacrament of Holy Order is the bishop.
The matter is the laying on of hands on the heads of the candidates. At the same time other priests also put their hands on the heads of the candidates for the priesthood.
In Common Worship the words used are,
“Send down the Holy Spirit on your servant N
for the office and work of a priest in your Church”. (1)
During the Declarations which precede the ordination, the bishop addresses the congregation and explains what is involved in the “office and work” of priests. This includes:
“They are to be messengers, watchmen and stewards of the Lord; they are to teach and to admonish, to feed and provide for his family, to search for his children in the wilderness of this world’s temptations, and to guide them through its confusions, that they may be saved through Christ for ever. Formed by the word, they are to call their hearers to repentance and to declare in Christ's name the absolution and forgiveness of their sins”. (2)
In the Prayer Book the words used are: “Receive the Holy Ghost for the office and work of a Priest in the Church of God, now committed unto thee by the imposition of our hands. Whose sins thou dost forgive, they are forgiven; and whose sins thou dost retain, they are retained. And be thou a faithful dispenser of the Word of God, and of his holy Sacraments; In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen”. (3)
The inward grace is the gift of the holy priesthood. The Sacrament of Holy Order, like that of Baptism and Confirmation, makes a mark on the soul which can never be removed. This is called the ‘indelible character’. Once people are priests, they are always priests.
A priest is one who has been appointed to stand between God and human beings in order to bring people to God. We call Our Lord the Great High Priest because he alone is both God and Man and by giving himself as a sacrifice on the Cross has made it possible for all humankind to be brought by him to God.